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How to Plant and Grow Apple Trees

Nothing is quite as refreshing and rewarding as taking a bite from a crisp, delicious apple from your own tree. Fortunately, growing apple trees isn't difficult.

Most apple trees have two parts: the scion (the top part that produces the fruit) and the rootstock (the bottom part). Trees are available in dwarf, semidwarf and standard sizes. Dwarf trees produce apples three to four years after planting and yield 1 to 2 bushels of fruit per year. Standard-sized trees are larger, take five to eight years to bear apples, and produce 4 to 5 bushels.

Which Apple Variety Is Best for Your Area?

Apple trees cannot pollinate themselves. Therefore, you need to plant at least two apple trees, each of a different variety, that bloom at the same time, so they can fertilize each other. Select one-year-old, bare-root trees. Apples grow in hardiness zones 3-9. Each variety has different chilling requirements (hours needed under 45 degrees to come out of dormancy). Apples grown in the North need more chilling hours then those in the South. Contact your county extension office for a list of varieties that do best in your area.

When, Where and How to Plant Apples

Plant apple trees in winter or early spring in an area with well-drained soil that receives at least six hours of sun a day. Dig the planting hole twice as wide as the rootball and 2 ft. deep. Create a mound of soil in the bottom of the hole, let the bare roots rest on this mound, and then add the remaining soil. Carefully tamp down the soil to remove air pockets. Make sure that the graft union (the swollen area on the trunk where the scion and rootstock meet) is at least 2 in. above the soil line. Water trees 1 in. per week in spring through fall.

Annual Care for Apple Trees

As your apple tree grows, prune yearly in winter when your tree is dormant. Prune away tall upright branches and weak twigs, which produce little fruit. Instead, "train" branches so that they grow in a more horizontal direction; this can be done by tying them to other branches, using flexible plastic tree tape.

Fertilize in spring using an all-purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer, which contains equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Apply a layer of mulch to prevent weeds and enrich the soil. Treat damaging insects and fungal problems with an insecticide or fungicide formulated for fruit trees (your county extension service can help identify pests). In spring when green leaves begin to appear, spray horticultural oil to kill overwintering insects.

Each flower cluster produces five to six blossoms. "Thin" young apples by removing enough so that each cluster is left with a single apple or one apple every 4 in.; this technique will result in higher-quality apples. Harvest apples according to the descriptions of the variety; usually they will attain full color when they are ready.

Then, savor those first delicious bites. Nothing is sweeter.

Supplies needed:

  • Shovel
  • Soil
  • All-purpose 10-10-10 Fertilizer
  • Insecticide
  • Fungicide
  • Horticultural oil